Artist Rights Symposium III at @TerryCollege at UGA, Keynote by @MMercuriadis of @HipgnosisSongs

We’re back! David Lowery hosted the third annual Artist Rights Symposium at the University of Georgia’s Terry College in Athens on November 15 as an in-person event. The Symposium is an all-day event that allows students in the Music Business program to participate and interact with panelists as part of the music business program.

Our keynote speaker was the inspiring Merck Mercuriadis, long time songwriter advocate, manager and music industry veteran who founded and runs the Hipgnosis Songs Fund. Merck is an active songwriter advocate around the world, particularly with the recent inquiry into the music streaming economy by the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture Media & Sport Committee and the UK Competition and Markets Authority. As Kristin Robinson reported on Billboard

Merck explained why he feels the industry is in the “age of the songwriter.” “There has been a massive paradigm shift,” he said. “Forty years ago, the power was in the artist brand,” but now, most songs that top the Billboard charts are written by a larger number of songwriters than ever, meaning the demand has never been higher for good hitmakers. “But songwriters have to have a place at the negotiating table now,” he said, citing that in the United States, rates for mechanicals are set by the government’s Copyright Royalty Board, barring “free market” negotiations. “Let’s face it, [the government controlling rates] is insulting to songwriters.”

This year’s symposium topic was “The Future of Authorship and the US Copyright Office” and Merck and the stellar panelists had a lot to say about the many advocacy issues facing contemporary songwriters.

Fortunately, thanks to Terry College the symposium is available on YouTube at no charge and you can watch it in its entirety.

Welcome/Opening remarks

9:00 AM -9:10 AM David Barbe, Director, Terry College Music Business Program

Georgia Legislative Overview and Agenda 9:10 AM- 9:30 AM

Panel 1: Libraries vs Authors: The Internet Archive’s “Controlled Digital Lending” and Fair Renumeration for Authors. 9:35 AM- 10:50 AM

Panelists

Janice Pilch.  Rutgers University
John Degen:  Writer, Head of Writers Union Canada.
Stephen Carlisle: Copyright Officer Nova State University Florida
Mary Rasenberger, CEO, Authors Guild and Authors Guild Foundation.

Panel 2 Managing a longer Table at the Copyright Royalty Board 11:10 AM to 12:25 PM

Dr. David C. Lowery Moderator
Rick Carnes, Songwriters Guild of America
David Turner, Penny Fractions, SoundCloud
Crispin Hunt, Songwriter, Ivors Academy, #BrokenRecord

Lunch and Fireside Chat with Merck Mercuriadis 12:45– 2:00 PM

Panel 3 #DoubleStat: The Future of Compulsory Rates 2:20 PM – 03:35 PM

Chris Castle Moderator, Founder Christian L. Castle, Attorneys, Austin and MusicTechPolicy blog
Richard Burgess, CEO of the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM)
Helienne Lindvall, President, European Composers and Songwriters Association
Samantha Schilling, Songtradr, IAFAR

Metadata, Matching and Claiming at the MLC 3:55 – 5:10 PM

Moderator Abby North, North Music Group
Erin McAnally, Artist Rights Alliance
Helienne Lindvall President, European Composers and Songwriters Association
Melanie Santa Rosa, Word Collections, The MLC

Please leave a comment if you have any questions!

3rd Annual UGA Artist Rights Symposium: The Future of the Copyright Royalty Board and the Copyright Office

Tomorrow! Live stream 3rd Artist Rights Symposium at @TerryCollege with @MMercuriadis David Lowery, @MusicTechPolicy @richardjburgess @helienne @northmusicgroup Samantha Schilling @crispinhunt @smalldrinkofh20 David Turner @jkdegen Steve Carlisle, Janice Pilch Mary Rassenberger

Livestream tomorrow (Nov 15) at 9am ET at this link https://www.facebook.com/ugambus

Sorry Dave: Breaking Google’s Hold on Government May Be Harder Than You Think

We’ve all been predicting that Google will get broken up by government for any one of a host of reasons. It’s not just songwriters watching the overlawyered lawfare in the Copyright Royalty Board that produces the insulting trickledown royalty structure that you need a team of accountants to understand. Big Tech lawfare is everywhere and it’s even more insidious than you might think. Big Tech spreads their gold around the world to control politicians and conflict lobbyists and lawyers so their combined headlock on laws and markets is hard to comprehend. And then there’s the academics. We’ve been screaming from the rooftops about the censorious Google for years and Google still leads the charge against creators in particular and human decency in general.

Lots of politicians will tell you they want to break up Google and Facebook but will Google and Facebook tell them “I”m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Eamon Javers at CNBC has a story that shows the most recent example of just how difficult it will be to get Google out of the government. Mr. Javers reports “How Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt helped write A.I. laws in Washington without publicly disclosing investments in A.I. startups”.

Yes, that’s right: Shady Uncle Sugar is back in the news, this time with added corruption and even less transparency than a Google royalty audit. Mr. Javers reports that the crux of Uncle Sugar’s latest grift is that he was appointed by former House Armed Services Committee Chair and Club Raytheon plankowner Mac Thornberry to something called the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. This “commission” is one of those “independent commission” thingys, but this one on AI didn’t exist before Uncle Sugar arrived.

Where the hell did that commission come from? Smells like astroturf to us. A complete fabrication Truman Show-style designed to push Eric Schmidt and Google even deeper into the AI business and the Washington swamp. Remember, Google acknowledges it ran AI research in cooperation with the Chinese government–in China–for years under the leadership of Stanford/Google University Professor Fei Fei Li. Keep an eye on that one.

According to the Commission’s website:

Section 1051 of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (P.L. 115-232) established the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence as an independent Commission “to consider the methods and means necessary to advance the development of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and associated technologies to comprehensively address the national security and defense needs of the United States.

And of course, you won’t be surprised to know that China has taken the lead on developing model AI regulations and business practices. Which brings us to Mr. Javers reporting and the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.

We’ll keep poking around on this “commission”, but this entire commission thing smells like a Washington lobbyist (perhaps Shady Uncle Sugar himself) got the government to pay for a study and put the US government’s stamp of approval on its work product. With Sugar running the whole show. Full on astroturf. And remember–the very best astroturf constructs an alternate reality that is controlled by the special interests. Interests don’t get more special than Shady Uncle Sugar who is too special for his shirt and is so special it hurts.

Curiously, right about the time that Uncle Sugar started touting the Commission’s work product, China has some work product of its own along similar lines:

On September 6, 2022, the Shenzhen government passed China’s first local regulation dedicated to boost AI development – Regulations on Promoting artificial Intelligence Industry in Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (the Shenzhen AI Regulation), which will take effect on November 1, 2022.

The Shenzhen AI Regulation aims to promote the AI industry by encouraging governmental organizations to be the forerunners in utilizing related technology and increasing financial support for AI research in the city. It also establishes guidelines for public data sharing to organizations and businesses involved in the sector.

But of course the kicker with the ex-Googler Schmidt brought his own Sugar to the party as Javers tells us:

In short, the commission, which Schmidt soon took charge of as chairman, was tasked with coming up with recommendations for almost every aspect of a vital and emerging [AI] industry. The panel did far more under his leadership. It wrote proposed legislation that later became law and steered billions of dollars of taxpayer funds to industry he helped build — and that he was actively investing in while running the group.

That’s right–if you think the government is going to break up Google, just realize that Google doesn’t want to get broken up because it is all working so well with zero oversight whether they are bamboozling government oversight in Congress or ravaging songwriters at the Copyright Royalty Board. It’s hard to get them out of the government when they are the government. If the Oracle case showed us anything, it showed us that Google’s reach is far and wide. Their special brand of evil knows no boundaries. And we never have gotten an explanation for why Eric Schmidt suddenly left Google.

“Open the pod bay doors” is not going to get it done. We must have an answer when they say “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

@jemaswad: Senators Introduce American Music Fairness Act, Which Would Require Radio to Pay Royalties to Musicians [thanks to Senators @MarshaBlackburn and @AlexPadilla4CA] #IRespectMusic

[Introducing AMFA in the Senate is a huge thing and a major win by MusicFirst over the evil NAB and their $50 handshake. The bipartisan legislation has to pass both Senate and House to become law.]

Since the dawn of radio, the United States has been and remains the only major country in the world where terrestrial radio pays no royalties to performers or recorded-music copyright owners of the songs it plays — a situation that is largely due to the powerful radio lobby’s influence in Congress. While the more than 8,300 AM and FM stations across the country pay royalties to songwriters and publishers, they have never paid performers or copyright holders, although streaming services and satellite radio do.

On Thursday morning, Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced the bipartisan American Music Fairness Act, which aims to rectify that situation by “ensur[ing] artists and music creators receive fair compensation for the use of their songs on AM/FM radio. This legislation will bring corporate radio broadcasters up-to-speed with all other music streaming platforms, which already pay artists for their music.”

Read the post on Variety

A Response to A2IM’s Objection to the New Statutory Mechanical Rates: Part 3

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

By Chris Castle

The American Association of Independent Music, the independent label trade association, filed comments with the Copyright Royalty Board opposing increasing the mechanical royalty to songwriters from the “frozen rates” to the 12¢ (plus cost of living adjustment) settlement rate of the participating record companies with the NMPA and NSAI. I wrote a reply to the A2IM comment that was timely filed with the CRB–barely. I will repost that comment in a few parts here on MTP. As I had about 10 minutes to write the comment due to the lateness of the A2IM filing, I will add some bracketed language to make it a bit less inside baseball.

The A2IM comment starts out claiming that the organization supports songwriters making more money, but then rejects the settlement that would demonstrably pay songwriters a higher rate because they don’t like the per-unit penny rate. That argument sounds a lot like “make it up on volume” which we’ve heard before.

Unfortunately, A2IM chose not to participate in the Phonorecords IV proceeding and came in a bit late to the party complaining of the check. Nobody stopped them from participating; it appears they put it all on red and it came up black. This is important because unlike independent songwriters who cannot afford the cost of participating at the CRB hearings, A2IM could have participated but evidently chose not to.

As I told the Judges in my comment, I will focus on a few issues raised by A2IM regarding the CRB settlement process in general, the penny rate structure of the mechanical royalty system in the United States, and their proposal that mechanical licensing for physical configurations be handed over to the Mechanical Licensing Collective.

A2IM raises an interesting point that mechanical rates should be different for new releases than for catalog titles. It sounds like they are asking for songwriters on new releases to take an even greater haircut than they already do given the effect of controlled composition clauses–which are justified by the same “investment” (largely recouped from artist royalties) that would be used to justify a further reduction in rates. 

I agree that it is rather insane to expect the Judges to come up with a single rate that treats every song as the same when we all know that’s not true and never has been true.

Accordingly, the copyright law should make it easier for a hit songwriter to charge a higher rate for new releases because after all, the statutory rate is the “minimum”. Why shouldn’t a hit songwriter (or really any songwriter) be able to charge, say, double statutory for new releases, particularly if they are being courted to provide an unproven artist with a song for a single (often already produced). So while there may well be support for rejecting what A2IM describes as a one-size-fits-all approach, it may not come with the result they are looking for. 

It must also be understood that when A2IM asks the Copyright Royalty Board to change the entire century-old mechanical royalty rate from an inflation-adjusted fixed penny rate to a percentage of wholesale is a vast undertaking. That’s why I made the following general comment to the judges:

As a general comment, all of these ideas must be examined under the authority delegated to the CRB by Congress, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in West Virginia et al v. Environmental Protection Agency et al.  [This case radically cut back the authority of administrative agencies like the CRB to vastly alter their Congressional mandate. Otherewise, the administrative state become effectively a fourth–and unaccountable–branch of government. At first blush, it appears to me that all of these ideas, whatever one thinks of the merits, will require Congress to act.

Mechanical Licensing Collective

The idea that the MLC will just take over the mechanical licensing process for configurations that Congress specifically held back from their portfolio [a few years ago] supports the idea that Congress would need to act in order to accomplish what A2IM wants to do.

I would respectfully point out to the Judges that the MLC has been sitting on top of at least $500,000,000 of other people’s money on the streaming side for a year or more and still can’t manage to get it matched and most importantly paid.  There is also a growing anecdotal belief in the indie publisher community who actually deal with the MLC that there is no musical works database constructed as instructed by Congress—that database appears to be entirely resident at HFA, an MLC vendor.  That seems odd and would be a good question for the Judges to ask of the MLC at the next administrative assessment. [I’ve found that people who are fans of a central planning approach to create a static database for a dynamic dataset like songs are usually people who themselves have never built one from the ground up.]

Plus, the MLC will not be able to do this additional work on physical accounting for free.  I simply cannot imagine that the DLC will welcome the opportunity to provide free accounting services for access to the compulsory license when their own members pay up front a share of the millions that have vanished into the MLC in return for what I cannot say.  

We must ask that if the A2IM members cannot afford the modest increase in mechanical royalties for their own songwriters—many of whom are their own artists—how will they afford a share of the administrative assessment plus the transaction costs of switching over to an entirely new accounting system plus what will almost certainly be frequent audits by the MLC.

Conclusion 

In short, while A2IM’s comments are well-intentioned and I understand that they feel overlooked in the process, believe me they are not alone.  There are a lot of people in the community who take their objections to heart and are willing to parlay about all these ideas in the future. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is support for derailing the process at the 11th hour which should come as no surprise to anyone.

A Response to A2IM’s Objection to the New Statutory Mechanical Rates: Part 2

By Chris Castle

This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy, continued from Part 1

The American Association of Independent Music, the independent label trade association, filed comments with the Copyright Royalty Board opposing increasing the mechanical royalty to songwriters from the “frozen rates” to the 12¢ (plus cost of living adjustment) settlement rate of the participating record companies with the NMPA and NSAI. I wrote a reply to the A2IM comment that was timely filed with the CRB–barely. I will repost that comment in a few parts here on MTP. As I had about 10 minutes to write the comment due to the lateness of the A2IM filing, I will add some bracketed language to make it a bit less inside baseball.

Unfortunately, A2IM chose not to participate in the Phonorecords IV proceeding and came in a bit late to the party complaining of the check. Nobody stopped them from participating; it appears they put it all on red and it came up black. This is important because unlike independent songwriters who cannot afford the cost of participating at the CRB hearings, A2IM could have participated but chose not to.

As I told the Judges in my comment, I will focus on a few issues raised by A2IM regarding the CRB settlement process in general, the penny rate structure of the mechanical royalty system in the United States, and their proposal that mechanical licensing for physical configurations be handed over to the Mechanical Licensing Collective.

The Longer Table

I actually was pleased to join A2IM at their annual Indie Week conference recently in New York on a panel devoted to this very topic.  I am well aware that they believe their members will be disproportionately affected by the increase in cost although I have not seen the data.  After many years in the music business, I will take on faith for purposes of this letter that they are correct.

I completely concur that the negotiation process for CRB needs a relook if not an overhaul.  I made the point on the A2IM panel that David Lowery and I intend to host a conference devoted largely to this subject [on November 15] at the University of Georgia at Athens.  Dr. Lowery and I are both of a mind that this issue needs to be vetted by the Copyright Office in their roundtable format.

However, I do not concur that the Subpart B resolution should be derailed at the 11th hour because of these structural issues that lawmakers no doubt will need to resolve.  The time for A2IM to have made their views known in Phonorecords IV has long passed.  They had the opportunity to participate in the proceeding, which individual songwriters could not afford to do, and they did not.  They had the opportunity to comment on the first and second comment periods for what became the rejected settlement and they did not.  They had the opportunity to insert themselves in the second settlement and appear not to have done so until filing a comment on the last day at the 11thhour.

Derailing the settlement for this purpose at the 11th hour is inappropriate.  Whether the Judges can even accomplish what is asked of them, I respectfully leave to Your Honors to decide, but I do think there’s a question of authority here.  I do support including all these topics being on the table for Phonorecords V as do many other commenters.

What is the Actual Cost to Labels of the New Rates?

While I am prepared to take disproportionate impact on faith, I am less prepared to take disproportionate financial impact without more data.  There is an assumption that A2IM labels all will have a one-to-one increase in costs because of the new rates, whatever they end up being.  I’m not so sure about that and would want to know a few things including the following.

Many indie labels operate on a revenue share basis with their artists (or licensors).  In those revenue share deals, the artist or licensor is paid a percentage of revenue that includes all mechanical royalties.  In that structure, the new rates have arguably zero impact on the [independent] label.

Because of rate fixing dates in deals [with controlled compositions clauses] where the label does pay the mechanicals, the new rates would only apply to records delivered during the rate period, i.e., after January 1, 2023.  Term recording artist agreements would typically include a controlled compositions clause as the Judges have noted in the Withdrawal Notice.  In such an arrangement, the label would be paying a modest increase and could easily tell the artist that unless the artist-songwriter agreed to take still lower rates based on the previously frozen rates, the label would be unable to release their records.

A2IM does make a good point about the bull-headedness of the DSPs on permanent download rates.  Perhaps the Judges could refer this issue to the Register for subsequent referral to the Department of Justice Antitrust Division to investigate these pricing practices.  Congress seems focused on these kinds of issues at the moment.

[It is unfair for A2IM to complain of being excluded from settlement negotiations by the labels who did participate in the proceedings and who did negotiate a settlement with the NMPA publishers who also participated in the proceedings. Participating in the proceedings is a threshold condition for participating in a settlement of the proceedings. It’s hardly the case that the major labels conspired against the indies this time. If A2IM labels were concerned about being included in these negotiations there are a number of steps they could have taken, starting with participating in the bifurcated Subpart B proceeding–a much less expensive proposition than the streaming side.

There is also a threshold question–that A2IM does not really address–as to whether the CRB has the authority to unilaterally change U.S. mechanical licensing structure that Congress initiated in 1909 and has been based on a penny rate ever since, not to mention hundreds of thousands of term recording artist agreements and licenses incorporating those statutory rates. The entire US recording industry is built on statutory rates and controlled compositions clauses, not to mention the valuations of music publishing catalogs. 

That change requested by A2IM is a question of such “magnitude and consequence” that it should require Congress to act based on both the CRB’s statutory authority, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent holding in West Virginia vs. EPA as well as common sense. Not to mention there are other reasons why getting a CRB case before the Supreme Court could backfire and disrupt a process that in other important ways is working quite well.]

Where Was the Board? AdRev and YouTube Play Essential Supporting Roles in one of the Biggest YouTube Scams According to Billboard’s Reporting by @wordsbykristin

By Chris Castle

And that’s saying a lot. Thanks to first-class investigative reporting by Kristin Robinson at Billboard, the story of what looks to be one of the biggest advertising fraud cases can be told. It involves a whole lot of people looking the other way starting with the boards of directors of Downtown Music (which owns AdRev) and YouTube (which doles out access to Content ID).

This isn’t the first time Google and YouTube have been caught up with shady dealings due to Google being the paymaster of piracy and handing out advertising money which is the mothers milk of online crime. Trichordist readers will recall Maria Schneider’s 2016 post (“YouTube, Pushers of Piracy“) that foreshadowed her 2020 lawsuit against YouTube over the effects of YouTube’s restrictive access to Content ID that is now poised to go to trial

Trichordist readers will also recall the bad old days of brand sponsored piracy led by Google and Google’s ad serving deal with Megavideo according to the Megavideo indictment in an extradition proceeding that somehow…ahem…has been stalled offshore for ten years by a bottom less pit of legal fees paid for by someone in.a scene worthy of Hieronymus Bosch. 

And who can forget Google’s $500,000,000 non prosecution agreement with the DOJ when the Obama Justice Department refused to actually indict Larry Page, Sergei Brin and Eric Schmidt for violating the Controlled Substances Act and even apologized to Google–despite the 4,000,000 documents and who knows how much in person testimony before a Rhode Island grand jury that directly implicated Larry Page and the massive shareholder lawsuit and settlement against Google for squandering the shareholders money keeping the C-suite’s butts out of prison. When questioned about the nonprosecution agreement by Senator John Cornyn before the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, Eric “Uncle Sugar” Schmidt refused to answer on the advice of counsel, often referred to as “taking the Fifth.”

L-R Google Brain Trust Chief Shill Pablo Chavez, Uncle Sugar, Head Lawyer David Drummond

But it is the first time that Downtown has been involved. I have the same question of both companies: Where was the board? The reason we have boards of directors is to protect the shareholders from exactly this kind of thing. In YouTube’s case, they have another layer of fiduciary duty–protecting the advertisers–both large and small–who trust them with billions of the advertisers’ money. Not to mention the children that the platform caters to.

Take the time to read Kristin Robinson’s outstanding journalism and then see if you can answer the question–where were the boards? I think the entire story hasn’t been told.

David Brooks and @knopps Give The Other Side of Dynamic Pricing: Big Tech Scalpers

What we don’t like about dynamic pricing is that it’s necessary because of free riding scalpers and the artists get blamed.

Bruce Springsteen fans had a rough introduction to the world of dynamic ticket pricing Wednesday (July 20), as many logged into Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan platform to buy tickets for his upcoming tour with the E Street Band and experienced sticker shock at the cost of the best seats.

Those prices – which climbed into the thousands of dollars, as widely reported – represented about 1 percent of the tickets listed on the Ticketmaster Verified Fan sale, but they became a sore point for fans who felt that they no longer had a shot at great seats after years of loyalty to the Boss.

By selling high-priced platinum tickets, Ticketmaster argues, the company can prevent the best seats from being bought and resold by scalpers. That money can instead go to Springsteen. However, this only works when the tickets cost enough to prevent scalpers from making a profit.

Sources tell Billboard that early numbers show that less than 10 percent of tickets sold for the five concerts that went on sale Wednesday ended up on the secondary market – lower than average – and that despite complaints about four-figure prices, only 1 percent of tickets were above $1,000.

Read the post on Billboard

@davidclowery is back at the Supreme Court, this time with added Attorneys General

David is petitioning the Supreme Court of the United States to stop Google’s cy pres payola system of class action settlements. This is David’s third trip to the Supreme Court. This time, 21 state attorneys general agree. Read their friend of the court brief here. The Court has not granted a hearing yet, but we’ll be keeping an eye on it.

More to come on this topic.

San Antonio Musicians: Texas Public Radio Presents the Music Artist Forum TODAY

Get more info and materials here

TPR Music Artist Forum | In Partnership with SLATT Management

Musicians of all ages are invited to a networking workshop and panelist discussion dedicated to understanding the future of music technology, copyright law, entertainment law, obtaining royalties, and navigation of music streaming services.

Address:

321 W. Commerce St, San Antonio, TX 78205

Doors open at 6:30pm. 

Panelist discussion will take place at 7:00pm.

Guest Panelists:

Ondrejia Scott | 7:00pm – 7:10pm

Chris Castle | 7:10pm – 7:20pm

Krystal Jones | 7:20pm – 7:30pm

Dr. Steven Parker | 7:30pm – 7:40pm

Linda Bloss-Baum | 7:40pm – 7:50pm

Food and drinks will be provided.

Musicians are welcome to submit an original track to be featured on our TPR Music Artist Forum playlist:

Professional headshots will be offered free of charge by Oscar Moreno.

We will be ending out the night with a special live performance by J. Darius live in the Malú and Carlos Alvarez Theater.

RSVP here to reserve your spot for this free event!